Stat Attack!: Northern Trust Open preview

By John AntoniniFebruary 11, 2014, 7:50 pm

Riviera Country Club, host course of the Northern Trust Open for all but two years since 1973, is one of the quirkiest venues on the PGA Tour. The sixth hole has a two-tiered green with a bunker in the middle, No. 10 is a drivable par-4, and No. 8 sports two fairways. There are plenty of doglegs, tight fairways, small well-guarded greens and few certain birdie opportunities. It has been well-documented that in 2013 Riviera allowed the fewest number of fairways hit since the tour began keeping records more than 20 years ago (51.82 percent), and its percentage of greens hit (58.01 percent) was the third-lowest on tour last year. What kind of player fares well on such a diabolical venue?

Would you believe three-time tour winner in 2013-14 Jimmy Walker? The AT&T Pebble Beach champion calls Riviera one of his favorite courses, and he finished T16 in L.A. a year ago after finishing T-4 in 2011 and 2012. Never one to worry about hitting fairways - he was last in the field in driving accuracy when he won the Frys.com Open to begin his amazing run last fall - Walker’s is one of the better records at Riviera. Since 2006 he has shot only one round worse than 72 and 13 of his last 24 rounds have been under par.


Jimmy Walker at the Northern Trust Open

 Year Place Scores To Par Money
 2013 T-16 70-70-71-69—280 -4 $99,000
 2012 T-4 72-66-72-69—279 -5

259,875

 2011 T-4 68-71-69-68—276 -8 268,666
 2010 T-37 71-72-71-67—281 -3 26,880
 2009 70 69-70-70-77—286 +2 12,600
 2006 T-39 71-71-72-69—283 -1 20,400
 2005 MC 73-73—146 +4  

But like Br’er Rabbit in the briar patch, there are other players who are at home on the par-71 venue. Four players in this year’s field - including Walker - have finished in the top-five at the Northern Trust Open two times in the last five years.

The top-five club

 Player 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009
 Bill Haas T-3 Won T-12 MC MC
 Dustin Johnson MC T-4 MC T-3 T-10
 Andres Romero T-71 MC T-55 T-5 T-3
 Jimmy Walker T-16 T-4 T-4 T-37 70

 

Three players have appeared eight or more times at the Northern Trust Open and have never missed the cut.

The weekend club

 Player

Cuts made

Top-10s Years

Best finish

 K.J. Choi 13 4 2001-13 T-3, 2009
 Stewart Cink 13 1 1997-13 T-5, 2000
 Matt Kuchar 8 0 2002-13 T-14, 2008

Five players who have won this event in the last 10 years are in the field. But unlike Haas, not all of them have done much beyond their victory

The winner’s club

 Player Year of win

Next best finish since 2004

Last year
 John Merrick 2013 T-54, 2010  
 Bill Haas 2012 T-3, 2013 T-3
 Aaron Baddeley 2011 T-7, 2005 MC
 Charles Howell III 2007 T-47, 2005 MC
 Mike Weir 2004 T-22, 2007 MC

The up-and-down nature of the recent winners make picking a champion this week dicey. If you had John Merrick a year ago after he hadn’t finished better than T-54 in any previous start at Riviera, congratulations. Also, I don’t believe you. Merrick took advantage of what was given him a year ago. He was T-23 in the field in greens in regulation by sticking his approach shots (T-11 in proximity to hole), and he got up and down when he missed the green (19th in scrambling). It’s a formula for victory on any course, but especially Riviera, where the five best finishers in 2013 were in the top 25 in the field in GIR, scrambling and strokes gained/putting.

Northern Trust Open leaders stats in 2013

 Player GIR percentage Proximity to hole Scrambling Strokes gained/putting
 John
 Merrick
63.89 (T-23) 33 feet, 9 in. (11) 65.38 (19) +1.157 (15)
 Charlie
 Beljan
72.22 (1) 33 feet, 1 in. (8) 70.00 (12) +1.657 (9)
 Freddie
 Jacobson
70.83 (T-3) 30 feet, 8 in. (2) 71.43 (T-8) +1.198 (14)
 Bill Haas 68.06 (T-10) 40 feet, 5 in. (T-61) 65.22 (20) +1.799 (4)
 Charl
 Schwartzel
69.44 (T-6) 36 feet, 2 in. (T-31) 77.27 (5)

+1.712 (6)


Webb Simpson has only played the Northern Trust Open twice, but he too, has a record to admire. He was T-15 in 2010 and T-6 a year ago and according to the PGA Tour’s Northern Trust Open media guide, he is the all-time scoring leader at Riviera, averaging 69.00 in his eight rounds there. Seven other players in the top-20 in all-time scoring at the tournament are in the field this week.

Active scoring average leaders at Riviera

 Player Scoring avg./rank Rounds
 Webb Simpson 69.00/1 8
  J.B. Holmes 69.69/4 26
 Fred Couples 69.87/6 115
 Ernie Els 70.06/11 34
 K.J. Choi 70.08/14 50
 Robert Allenby 70.14/16 50
 Dustin Johnson 70.20.18 20
 Bill Haas 70.25.19 29

During this wrap-around season it’s easy to forget that Simpson’s 2013-14 victory came in the fall at Las Vegas. Still he’s had a good Pacific swing. Like Walker, who also won in the fall, Simpson has been one of the tour’s top players since January. In fact, there are 14 players with three or more top-25 finishes on Tour during the past six weeks, and nine of them are playing the Northern Trust Open.

West Coast warriors

 Player

Starts

Top-10s Top-25s Best
 Pat Perez 5 3 4

T2-Farmers, T7-Pebble, T8-Sony, 11-Phoenix

 Harris
 English           
4 2 3 4-Sony, 9-Phoenix, T11-Hyundai
 Jimmy Walker 4 2 3 1-Sony, 1-Pebble, T21-Hyundai
 Jordan Spieth 4 2 3 2-Hyundai, T4-Pebble, T19-Farmers
 Kevin Na 4 2 3 T4-Pebble, T8-Sony, T19-Phoenix
 Webb Simpson 3 2 3 T3-Hyundai, 10-Phoenix, T23-Humana
 Will MacKenzie 4 1 3

T7-Farmers, T13-Humana, T13-Pebble

 Jason Kokrak 4 0 3 T15-Phoenix, T19-Pebble, T20-Sony
 Martin Laird 4 0 3 T19-Phoenix, 20-Hyundai,
T25-Humana

Perez has been one of the most consistent players on tour in 2014, and if you’re thinking about picking him in a fantasy league this week, he does have some success at the Northern Trust. Making his 13th start, he has made 10 cuts with a solo eighth in 2007 as his best showing.

Adding sparkle to the Northern Trust is the host of European Tour golfers or dual-tour golfers who have made their way to America and are playing this week as a run-up to the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Some have played well in foreign lands this winter, some not so well, and some not at all. But their presence gives the Northern Trust Open 26 of the top 50 players on the World Ranking. With a projected strength of field of 434 points, it is the best-rated tournament in 2014 according to the standards set by the World Ranking.

International stars at the Northern Trust Open

 Player Rank Recent results
 Ian Poulter 14

It’s his third start in the U.S. in four weeks, but with little success (T-47 Farmers, MC Phoenix).

 Charl
 Schwartzel      
18

He won the Alfred Dunhill title in December, but has been cold since the calendar switched. T59 last week in Joburg.

 Victor
 Dubuisson
29

Fifth at the Volvo Champions in January, he was T-13 last week at Pebble Beach.

 Lee
 Westwood
33

Like Poulter, he’s stayed away from the Euro Tour in 2014. Also like Poulter, he’s struggled in America (MC at Pebble).

 Louis
 Oosthuizen 
34

He won the Volvo Golf Champions the second week of January, but hasn’t played since.

 Ernie Els 35

He hasn’t played the PGA Tour since the HSBC Champions, and missed the cut in his most recent start in Dubai.

 G. F’dez-
 Castano
38

Two MC’s in the U.S. (Farmers, Phoenix) after two top-20s to end 2013 in South Africa

 Joost Luiten 41

He’s been third, sixth and T-23 in three Euro events since the calendar turned. 

 Francesco
 Molinari
45

A T-13 two weeks ago in Dubai was his only world-wide start in 2014.


One final note: Fred Couples is playing his 32nd Northern Trust Open this week. He has made 28 cuts and won in 1990 and 1992. He was second in 1993, 1994 and 1996 and has 14 top-10s. More recently, he was T-7 in 2011 and has made the cut in 11 of 13 PGA Tour starts in the last three years.

If you haven’t already done so, please follow me on Twitter at @johnantoninigc.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.